Congress Passes Defense Bill Making It Easier to Close Guantánamo Prison
December 20, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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WASHINGTON – The Senate late last night passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2014, which will ease transfer restrictions for detainees currently held at the military detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, most of whom have been held without charge or trial for over a decade. The bill, which passed the House of Representatives last week, cleared the Senate by a vote of 84-15. The improved transfer provisions were sponsored by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and were strongly supported by the White House and the Defense Department.
"This is a big step forward for meeting the goal of closing Guantánamo and ending indefinite detention. For the first time ever, Congress is making it easier, rather than harder, for the Defense Department to close Guantánamo – and this win only happened because the White House and Defense Secretary worked hand in hand with the leadership of the congressional committees," said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. "After years of a blame-game between Congress and the White House, both worked together to clear away obstacles to transferring out of Guantánamo the vast majority of detainees who have never been charged with a crime."
The current population at Guantánamo stands at 158 detainees, approximately half of whom were cleared for transfer to their home or third-party countries by U.S. national security officials four years ago. Also, periodic review boards have recently started reviews of detainees who have not been charged with a crime and had not been cleared in the earlier reviews. While the legislation eases the transfer restrictions for sending detainees to countries abroad, it continues to prohibit the transfer of detainees to the United States for any reason, including for trial or medical emergencies.
"There has been a sea change on the Guantánamo issue, both in Congress and at the White House. With the president’s renewed commitment to closing it, and the support of Congress, there now is reason to hope that the job of closing Guantánamo and ending indefinite detention can get done before the president leaves office," said Anders. "As big as this win is, there is more work left to be done. The Defense Department has to use the new transfer provisions to step up transfers out of Guantánamo, and Congress needs to remove the remaining ban on using federal criminal courts to try detainees."
President Obama is expected to sign the defense bill into law before the end of the year.
For more on the ACLU’s work on closing the U.S. military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay: